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One of the most common unquestioned assumptions among Buddhist meditators is that satipatthāna is synonymous with vipassanā. This assumption, it seems, often is a result of reading the Satipatthāna Suttas(1) in isolation without carefully considering the context in which satipatthāna is used throughout the Suttas. When the broader view of the entire Sutta Pitaka is taken into account, it becomes clear that such an assumption, at best, is only partially correct. In this short study I will investigate the various contexts in which satipatthāna appears and particularly consider its relationship with samādhi.(2)
Samādhi and the Satipatthāna Suttas(3)
The Satipatthāna Suttas are often understood as only being concerned with vipassanā meditation. But there is nothing intrinsic to the Satipatthāna Suttas that allows one to conclude thus. Indeed, there are several aspects of these Suttas that point to satipatthāna also being concerned with samatha/samādhi.
The first of these aspects is the inclusion of the first tetrad of the Ānāpānasati Sutta in the Satipatthāna Suttas. Ānāpānasati is usually regarded as a samatha (calm) practice,(4) and there seems no reason why it should be regarded otherwise here. Moreover, the Ānāpānasati Sutta states that each of its four tetrads fulfils one of the four Satipatthānas. (5) It then concludes:
"Bhikkhus, that is how mindfulness of breathing, developed and cultivated, fulfils the four satipatthānas." (6)
And it is not only the ānāpānasati part of the Satipatthāna Suttas which relates to samādhi. The cemetery contemplations, for example, are elsewhere specifically said to be samādhi practices:
"And, monks, what is the effort of guarding? Here, monks, a monk guards a favourable basis of samādhi which has arisen (in him): the perception of a skeleton, the perception of a worm-infested (corpse), the perception of a livid (corpse), the perception of a festering (corpse), the perception of a fissured (corpse), the perception of a bloated (corpse)." (7)
Indeed, it seems that all the satipatthāna practices have a samādhi aspect. Take the standard passage which concludes each exercise of the Satipatthāna Suttas:
"In this way he dwells contemplating the body in the body (then feelings/mind/phenomena) internally, or he dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena) externally, or he dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena) internally and externally." (8)
Then consider the following passage which relates the internal contemplation directly to samādhi:
"Here a venerable monk dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena) internally, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. Dwelling contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena) internally, there he is rightly concentrated, rightly purified."(9)
Satipatthāna and Samādhi Outside the Satipatthāna Suttas
The above should be sufficient to at least suggest that samādhi is an integral part of satipatthāna. However, to be able to make a strong case for this relationship, and to consider in more detail what it involves, it is necessary to look beyond the Satipatthaana Suttas to the broader use of satipatthāna in the Sutta Pitaka.
In the threefold division of the Buddhist Path, into sīla (virtue), samādhi, and paññā (wisdom), satipatthāna is classified under samādhi, not under paññā:
"Right effort, right mindfulness (i.e. satipatthāna),(10) and right samādhi (i.e. the jhānas)(11) - these states are included in the aggregate of samādhi. Right view and right intention - these states are included in the aggregate of paññā."(12)
If satipatthāna were equivalent, or closely related, to vipassanā rather than samādhi, would it not be included in the aggregate of wisdom rather than the aggregate of samādhi?(13) The most important relationship between satipatthāna and samādhi that emerges from a broad reading of the Suttas, is that the practice of satipatthāna leads to samādhi:(14)
"The four satipatthānas are the basis of samādhi".(15)
"The repetition, development, and cultivation of these same states (satipatthāna and right effort) is the development of samādhi therein".(16)
" 'I will dwell contemplating the body in the body (feeling/mind/phenomena),(17) ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world.' For thus, monk, you should train.
When, monk, this samādhi is thus developed and made much of, you should develop this samādhi with initial and sustained application, you should develop (it) without initial application but with a remainder of sustained application, you should develop (it) without initial and sustained application, you should develop (it) with rapture, you should develop (it) with comfort, you should develop it with equanimity."(18)
The last part "initial and sustained application ... with equanimity" is a reference to the jhānas.(19) Note how satipatthāna practice is first called "this samādhi" and then said to lead on to the jhānas.
"So too, monks, here some foolish, incompetent, unskillful monk dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena), ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena), his mind does not become concentrated ...
So too, monks, here some wise, competent, skillful monk dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena), ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena), his mind becomes concentrated ...
That wise, competent, skillful monk gains pleasant dwellings in this very life, and he gains mindfulness and clear comprehension."(20)
The phrase "pleasant dwellings in this very life" is a common synonym in the Suttas for the four jhānas.(21)
Thus a pattern emerges whereby the four satipatthānas constitute the practice and development of samādhi, eventually leading to the four jhānas, sammā-samādhi. This relationship between the satipatthānas and samaadhi is in fact made very explicit in the Suttas:
"It is indeed to be expected, venerable sir, that a noble disciple who has faith, whose energy is aroused, and whose mindfulness is established, will gain samādhi, will gain one-pointedness of mind, having made release the object. That samādhi of his, venerable sir, is his faculty of samādhi."(22)
"For one of right mindfulness (satipatthāna), sammā-samādhi (the jhānas) springs up."(23)
Satipatthāna and Vipassanā
The above survey presents the most important evidence on the context in which satipatthāna occurs throughout the Suttas. Having thus shown that the usual purpose of satipatthāna is the attainment of samādhi, it is necessary to consider the relationship between satipatthāna and vipassanā.
Firstly, it should be noted that the prevalence of a direct link between satipatthāna and samādhi does not necessarily mean that satipatthāna is all about samatha meditation. Rather, it means that, whether one practices samatha or vipassanā, in both cases the purpose of satipatthāna is the attainment of samādhi.
Secondly, the question arises as to what happens after samādhi: is there such a thing as post-samādhi satipatthāna and, if there is, what does it involve? In this context it is important to note that a number of Suttas make it clear that satipatthāna practice can take one all the way to the end of the Buddhist Path, for example:
"Bhikkhus, these four satipatthānas, when developed and cultivated, are noble and emancipating; they lead the one who acts upon them out to the complete destruction of suffering."(24)
For satipatthāna to be able to take one to full Enlightenment, it seems required that it must include post-samādhi vipassanā, i.e. deep insight.(25) But a direct relationship between satipatthāna and vipassanā is never explicitly mentioned in the Suttas.(26) To establish such a link it is necessary to broaden the inquiry to include other terms that also signify insight, such as ñāna, dassana, and yathā-bhūta-ñāna-dassana. This broadened inquiry brings to light the following interesting passage:(27)
"Come, friends, dwell contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena), ardent, clearly comprehending, unified, with limpid mind, concentrated, with one-pointed mind, in order to know the body as it really is (yathā-bhūta-ñāna)".(28)
Note how this passage differs significantly from the standard satipatthāna formula found almost everywhere else. It is two differences in particular that are important in the context of this study: Firstly, the insight aspect relates to the deep insights of seeing reality as it actually is (yathā-bhūta-ñāna); secondly, using a string of related terms - unified, with limpid mind, concentrated, with one-pointed mind - the passage puts a strong emphasis on samādhi. The implication is that satipatthāna should be practiced for the purpose of deep insight only after samādhi has been achieved.(29) It thus seems clear that there is such a thing as post-samādhi satipatthāna and that its purpose is deep insight.(30)
Two Stages of Satipatthāna
From the above it emerges that satipatthāna normally should be considered as a practice leading to samādhi and under special circumstances as a practice leading to deep insight. Furthermore, it appears that these two aspects of satipatthāna can be divided up into two quite distinct stages. In accordance with the natural progression of meditation practice,(31) the first stage of satipatthāna is about attaining samādhi. Once samādhi has been achieved (i.e. the necessary condition for deep insight is in place), the mind is equipped to uncover the true nature of the five aggregates(32) and realise the successive stages of Enlightenment. This is the second stage of satipatthāna. Such a two-stage division of satipatthāna is in fact explicitly described in the Suttas:
"... so these four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthāna) are the bindings for the mind of the noble disciple in order to subdue his habits based on the household life, to subdue his distress, fatigue, and fever based on the household life, and in order that he may attain the true way and realise Nibbāna.
Then the Tathāgata disciplines him further: 'Come, bhikkhu, abide contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena), but do not think thoughts of sensual desire.' "(33)
Here the first stage of satipatthāna serves the purpose of abandoning refined hindrances.(34) This is part of the path leading to samādhi. The second stage of satipatthāna is here characterised by sensual desire having been abandoned, something suggesting that samādhi has been attained.(35)
Almost all Sutta passages that deal with the place of satipatthāna in the broader scheme of the Buddhist Path, show that satipatthāna is a condition for samādhi. It must therefore be concluded that the main purpose of satipatthāna is to bring the mind to samādhi. This result is important because it contradicts the common misunderstanding that satipatthāna is only concerned with vipassanā.
The second important conclusion that can be drawn from the above discussion is that satipatthāna as a deep insight practice, leading to insight into the true nature of the aggregates, only begins after samādhi has been attained. This conclusion is in line with one of the common themes of the Suttas: that "knowledge and vision of things as they really are" depends on samādhi.(36)
All references are to volume number, page number, and line number of the Pali texts published by the Pali Text Society.
(1) "The Satipatthāna Suttas" is a reference to D 22 & M 10.
(2) I follow the advice given in the four great standards, (D.II.123.30 - 126.5), which is to use only the word of the Buddha as the final authority in settling controversial points of Dhamma. For the purposes of this paper, I take the following parts of the Pāli Canon as the word of the Buddha: The Vinaya Pitaka (Vin) (except the Parivāra), the Diigha Nikāya (D), Majjhima Nikāya (M), Samyutta Nikāya (S), Anguttara Nikāya (A), and the Sutta Nipāta (Sn).
(3) Whenever 'samādhi' is used in the Suttas, it will almost always include the four jhānas. Moreover, although other types of samādhi are mentioned in the Pali Canon, by far the most common type of samādhi is the four jhānas. Thus, when samādhi appears on its own in the Suttas, I normally understand it to refer to the four jhānas. Consequently, in this paper, whenever I use the term samādhi on its own, I mainly refer to the four jhānas.
(4) The first three tetrads of the Ānāpānasati Sutta are generally understood (also by the Commentary) to be samādhi practices. In addition, the phrase "ānāpānasati samādhi", "concentration through mindfulness of breathing", is not uncommon in the Suttas; e.g. see S.V.316-341 and Vin.III.70.19f.
"Evam bhāvitā kho, bhikkhave, ānāpānasati evam bahulīkatā cattāro satipatthāne paripūreti."
Wherever available, I follow the translations of Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi.
ca bhikkhave anurakkhanappadhānam?
"Iti ajjhattam vā kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharati, bahiddhā vā kāye kayānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharati, ajjhatta-bahiddhā vā kāye kayānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharati."
Some might argue that the inclusion of the rise and fall section, immediately after the above, means that this is all about insight. However, it seems quite clear that the initial part on contemplating internally and externally can often be independent of the contemplation of rise and fall, see e.g. (D.II.216,10-14).
"Idha bho bhikkhu ajjhattam kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharati ātāpī sampajāno satimā vineyya loke abhijjhā domanassam. Ajjhattam kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharanto tattha sammā samādhiyati sammā vippasīdati."
Rightly concentrated, "sammā-samādhiyati", probably refers to the jhānas; see note 11.
"Yo ca sammā-vāyāmo yā ca sammā-sati yo ca sammā-samādhi, ime dhammā samādhikkhandhe sangahītā; yā ca sammā-ditthi yo ca sammā-sankappo, ime dhammā paññākkhandhe sangahītā ti."
(13) That vipassanā and wisdom are closely related is shown by a passage at (A.I.61.9-10) which states that when vipassanā is developed, wisdom is developed: "vipassanā bhikkhave bhāvitā kam anubhoti? Paññā bhāvīyati."
"Cattāro satipatthāne samādhi-nimittā."
"Yā tesam yeva dhammānam āsevanā bhāvanā bahulī-kammam ayam tattha samādhi-bhāvanā."
"Kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharissāmi ātāpī sampajāno satimā vineyya loke abhijjhā-domanassanti. Evam hi te bhikkhu sikkhitabbam.
Yato kho te bhikkhu ayam samādhi evam bhāvito hoti bahulīkato, tato tvam bhikkhu imam samādhim savitakkam pi savicāram bhāveyyāsi, avitakkam pi vicāra-mattam bhāveyyāsi, avitakkam pi avicāram bhāveyyāsi, sappītikam pi bhāveyyāsi, nippītikam pi bhāveyyāsi, sāta-sahagatam pi bhāveyyāsi, upekhā-sahagatam pi bhāveyyāsi."
(19) The various qualities listed are the defining characteristics of the jhānas, see e.g. (M.I.347.12-23). The samādhi with initial and sustained application is the first jhāna. The samādhi without initial but with a remainder of sustained application is mentioned in the suttas only rarely and it falls between the first and second jhānas. The samādhi without initial and sustained application is the second jhāna or above. The samādhi without rapture refers to third jhāna and above and so does the samādhi with comfort; comfort (sāta) here being a synonym for happiness (sukha). The samādhi with equanimity refer to the fourth jhāna and beyond. That the four jhānas are meant here is also supported by the Commentary (see Anguttara Nikāya Commentary IV.142.9-22).
"Evam eva kho bhikkhave idh'ekacco bālo avyatto akusalo bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharati, ātāpī sampajāno satimā vineyya loke abhijjhā-domanassam. Tassa kāye kāyānupassino viharato cittam no samādhiyati ...
Evam eva kho bhikkhave idh'ekacco pandito vyatto kusalo bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharati, ātāpī sampajāno satimā vineyya loke abhijjhā-domanassam. Tassa kāye kāyānupassino viharato cittam samādhiyati ...
Sa kho so bhikkhave pandito vyatto kusalo bhikkhu lābhī ceva hoti dittheva dhamme sukha-vihārānam lābhī hoti sati-sampajaññassa."
ca bhikkhave samādhi-bhāvanā bhāvitā bahulīkatā
"Saddhassa hi bhante ariya-sāvakassa āraddha-viriyassa upatthita-satino etam patikankham, yam vossagg'ārammanam karitvā labhissati samādhim labhissati cittassa ekaggatam. Yo hi'ssa bhante samādhi tad assa samādh'indriyam."
The sati faculty is normally understood to be the four satipatthānas and the samādhi faculty the four jhānas, see (S.V.196.15-18).
"Sammā-satissa sammā-samādhi pahotī ti."
See also (A.V.212.15-16), (A.V.214.25-26) & (A.V.236.27 - 237.1)
(24) (S.V.166.19-21) : "Cattāro me bhikkhave satipatthānā bhāvitā bahulīkatā ariyā niyyānikā niyyanti takkarassa sammā-dukkhakkhayāya." See also (S.V.158.16-23), (S.V.175.18-25), (S.V.179.14-24), (S.V.180.13-19), (S.V.181.20 - 182.6), (S.V.182.8-19) & (S.V.190.1-8).
I. By far its most frequent use is as a pair with samatha. In this usage the meaning seems to have a rather broad range and is never specifically related to satipatthāna. See (D.III.213.11), (D.III.273.24-25), (M.III.289.29-30), (M.III.297.4f), (M.I.494.21f), (S.IV.195.1), (S.IV.295.30), (S.IV.360.6-7), (S.V.52.22), (A.I.61.6), (A.I.95.1), (A.I.100.10) & (A.II.247.11). On a few occasions samatha and vipassanā form a pair within a longer list of qualities; see (M.I.294.11-12) & (A.II.140.15)
III. On a couple of occasions vipassanā occurs outside these contexts: At (A.I.61.9-10) wisdom is said to be developed through developing vipassanā; at (S.IV.362.21-22), among a large number of other qualities, vipassanā is said to lead to the unconditioned; at (A.II.157.4f) vipassanā is said to be developed before, after, or together with samatha.
IV. Vipassanā also occurs in a few compounds: At (A.II.92.14ff), (A.IV.360.10f) & (A.V.99.5f) the compound "adhipaññā-dhamma-vipassanāya", "insight into things relating to the higher wisdom", is encountered, and at (M.III.25.10f) "anupada-dhamma-vipassanā", "step by step insight into things".
"Etha tumhe āvuso kāye kāyānupassino (vedanāsu vedanānupassino / citte cittānupassino / dhammesu dhammānupassino) viharatha, ātāpino sampajānā ekodibhūtā vippasanna-cittā samāhitā ekagga-cittā kāyassa (vedanānam/cittassa/dhammānam) yathā-bhūtam ñānāya."
(29) I. The various terms signifying samādhi are adjectives to "kāyānupassino"; the meaning is therefore that one should dwell contemplating the body (etc.) after these qualities, i.e. samādhi, have already been established.
II. That satipatthāna as a deep insight practice only begins after samādhi has been attained is not surprising. In the Suttas it is always samādhi which is the condition for yathā-bhūta-ñāna-dassana, e.g.: "sammā-samādhimhi asati sammā-samādhi-vipannassa hat'upanisam hoti yathā-bhūta-ñāna-dassanam" - "when right samādhi is not existing, for one failing in right samādhi, the proximate cause is destroyed for knowledge and vision of things as they really are"; (A.V.4.9-11). See also (A.V.212.16), (A.V.214.26-27) & (A.V.236.27).
This relationship between samādhi and yathā-bhūta-ñāna-dassana may also help explain why a direct link between satipatthāna and insight is so rarely expressed in the Suttas. It seems likely that after samādhi yathā-bhūta-ñāna-dassana is used in place of satipatthāna to more precisely explain what is happening at this stage. Elsewhere (e.g. M.III.76.6) sammā-ñāna is used in a similar way. Yathā-bhūta-ñāna-dassana may thus be regarded as a subset and specialised aspect of satipatthāna.
At (M.I.435.26f) one finds a clear example of the sort of insight practice that comes after samādhi: after emerging from the jhānas one is to reflect on them as being affected by the three characteristics. Although satipatthāna is never mentioned, this practice would seem to fall squarely within cittaanupassanā.
(30) It should also be noted that although the emphasis of satipatthāna is on vipassanā at this stage, this does not preclude satipatthāna from being helpful for even deeper states of samādhi. And the deeper the samādhi the more powerful the subsequent vipassanā practice will be.
" 'Evam eva kho (Aggivesana) ariya-sāvakassa ime cattāro satipatthānā cetaso upanibandhanā honti gehasitānany c'eva sīlānam abhinimmadanāya gehasitānañ c'eva sankappānam abhinimmadanāya gehasitānañ c'eva daratha-kilamatha-parilāhānam abhinimmadanāya ñāyassa adhigamāya nibbānassa sacchikiriyāya.'
Tam enam Tathāgata uttarim vineti: 'Ehi tvam, bhikkhu, kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharāhi mā ca kāmūpasamhitam vitakkam vitakkesi'."
(On 'kāmūpasamhitam' rather than 'kāyūpasamhitam' see Middle Length discourses of the Buddha, note 1177.) Also (S.V.155.31 - 157.20) appears to be showing a similar split between satipatthāna before and after samādhi.
(34) It would seem that "distress, fatigue, and fever based on the household life" refers to the five hindrances, in particular sensual desire. The text in question, however, specifies that the five hindrances have already been removed. To make sense of this apparent contradiction, I would suggest that the removal of the five hindrances allows for refined aspects of the hindrances still to be present and that "distress, fatigue, and fever based on the household life" refers only to these refined aspects of the hindrances. There are also other passages where satipatthāna practice is shown to remove (refined aspects of) the hindrances: (S.V.151.25 - 152.1) :
"Evam eva kho bhikkhave idh'ekacco pandito vyatto kusalo bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī / citte cittānupassī / dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharati, ātāpī sampajāno satimā vineyya loke abhijjhā-domanassam tassa kāye kāyānupassino viharato cittam samādhiyati upakkilesā pahīyanti."
"So too, monks, here some wise, competent, skillful monk dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena), ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. While he dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena), his mind becomes concentrated, his corruptions are abandoned."
(Upakkilesa is used in other places to refer to the remaining refined hindrances, e.g. the Upakkilesa Sutta, M 128.) (S.V.325.6) :
"Evam eva kho Ānanda bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī (vedanāsu vedanānupassī/citte cittānupassī/dhammesu dhammānupassī) viharanto pi upahanateva pāpake akusale dhamme."
"So too, Ānanda, when a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body (feelings/mind/phenomena) he flattens evil unwholesome states."
"Imesam kho bhikkhave pañcannam nīvaranānam pahānāya cattāro satipatthānā bhāvetabbā."
"Monks, the four satipatthānas should be developed for the abandoning of these five hindrances."
(35) Note that the description of satipatthāna here (at the second stage) bears a close resemblance to the passage quotes in note 28 above (and the relevant section in the main text). In the present passage, instead of the ordinary satipatthāna formula, the terms "ātāpī, sampajāno, satimā, vineyya loke abhijjhā-domanassam" have been removed and replaced with "mā ca kāmūpasamhitam vitakkam vitakkesi". This indicates that sensuality has been abandoned through samādhi. Similarly, in the passage in note 28 "satimā vineyya loke abhijjhā-domanassam" has been replaced with a string of terms signifying samādhi. It therefore seems likely that the two passages refer to the same type of post-samādhi satipatthāna. Also in the present passage, in the subsequent text the first jhāna is missing, the training going straight to the second jhāna. This suggests that the first jhāna is here included in the satipatthāna practice. Again, this points to post-samādhi satipatthaana.
(36) See note 29. "Knowledge and vision of things as they really are", i.e. yathā-bhūta-ñāna-dassana.
Source: Buddhist Society of Western Australia, https://www.bswa.org
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last updated: 15-04-2006